Connaissance de l'Est

Year: 1914

Author: Paul Claudel (1868 - 1955)

Publisher: Georges Crès & Cie

Connaissance de l'est, title page

In 1909 Victor Segalen (1878-1919) moved to China as a translator in training for the navy. He became familiar with the Forbidden City, wrote several books about China, including the collection Stèles, and gave lectures in English at the Imperial Medical College. In 1913 he returned to Paris for a short time, where a few collectors and literary friends enabled him to organise a new expedition to China that combined literary and scientific goals.

Part of the new plans was the publication of a series of books for which the French publisher Georges Crès appointed Segalen editor in August 1913. This became the short-running series 'Collection coréenne'- the title had been invented by Segalen himself- in which his own collection Stèles was the first to appear. He also published the Mardrus translation of Aladdin ou la Lampe magique and Paul Claudel's Connaissance de l'Est. The three books were printed in 1914 on Korean paper in Beijing (Peking) by Pei T'ang, the Lazarists' publisher.

Claudel and Segalen had met each other before in Beijing, and Claudel gave his permission on 17 August 1913 for the publication of his prose poems, which had originally been published by Mercure de France in 1900. The pages of this reprint were printed on one side, folded in half and sewn together in the Oriental style. The two onglets were laid in a cassette covered in blue silk, provided with bone clasps.

Victor Segalen wasn't the only one to appreciate Claudel's prose poems; André Gide, the critics Jacques Rivière and Henri Mondor were also full of praise. Claudel remembered writing them in a period in which he was interested in rational observations and definitions: 'je commançais à ce moment-là à prendre plaisir à la logique, à voir les choses s'exprimer d'une manière complètement rationnelle et raisonnable' (I began at that time to enjoy logic, to see things expressed in a completely rational and reasonable way).

The book's ending includes an anonymous justification, almost certainly written by Segalen. He explains here that the initials of each chapter (in black on a 'stamp' printed in red, like the one for the chapter on gardens) can be traced back to traditional seals.

Bibliographical description

Description: Connaissance de l'Est / Paul Claudel. - Paris : Georges Crès & Cie, 1914. - 2 dl (226 p.) : ill. ; 29 cm. - (Collection coréenne)

1st edition: 1900

Printer: Pei-T'ang

Edition: 630 copies

This copy: Number 619 of 570 (numbered from 61 to 630) on Vergé Pelure

Bibliography: Mahé I-516

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 317


  • Formes chinoises: Centenaire de Victor Segalen 1878-1919. Paris, Musée Cernuschi, 1979
  • Jane Greenfield, ABC of bookbinding. New Castle, DE, Oak Knoll Press; New York, NY, Lyons Press, 1998
  • Claude-Pierre Perez, Le défini et l’inépuisable: Essai sur Connaisance de l'Est de Paul Claudel. Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1995
  • Victor Segalen, voyageur et visionnaire. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1999